Above & Beyond: Swimming the English Channel

Anders Jakobsson has a dream…and a plan to achieve it.

The Swedish-born Jakobsson isn’t the typical endurance athlete; the three-time Escape from Alcatraz (EFA) triathlon finisher also once deadlifted 683 pounds. His 5-foot-9-inch frame has carried as few as 132 pounds—his Ironman triathlon weight—and as many as 225 pounds—his powerlifting weight. His dream, a solo swim of the English Channel, something Jakobsson calls “the Mount Everest of swimming,” requires that he carries a minimum of 200 pounds on his frame. Having experienced hypothermia and the combination of pain, uncontrollable shivering and confusion, he knows that some fat weight is critical to conquer the cold and provide fuel.

Jakobsson’s focus on endurance swimming comes from an attraction to its purity. The former U.S. Navy rescue swimmer says, “Swimming is so simple. You only need one thing: water.

Swimming may be pure, but it’s not for the faint-of-heart. Willingness to face and overcome adversity is essential. In the 2013 EFA swim, Jakobsson got stuck in
the current around Alcatraz Island. He later said “it [was] like swimming in a washing machine.” After 20 minutes of sprint swimming, he broke free and continued. For Jakobsson, each success is a stroke towards the shores of the English Channel and his dream.

Jakobsson cites solitude as a major challenge in endurance swimming, as well as the mental gymnastics needed to break down overwhelming tasks into manageable bites. Despite the solo nature of the sport, Jakobsson knows that no man is an island. “Assembling the right support team is critical,” he notes.

Winners need confidence, and Jakobsson has what it takes. “I have never failed a quest I have started,” he declares. He doesn’t consider physical illness to be a failure and accepts when his body won’t cooperate; he regroups, he analyzes and he moves forward. That’s all in keeping with his proud Viking/Swedish roots; Anders literally means “man” or “manly” in his
native tongue.

The Channel swim in 2017 will be his 50th birthday present to himself and following that feat Jakobsson plans to complete his “triple crown” by swimming around Manhattan and completing the 21 statute mile swim from Catalina Island to the California mainland.

Says Jakobsson of his quest:
“Each swim is unique. I have never been a one-and-done type of guy. I see many triathletes do an Ironman and they are done, the bucket list item crossed off. I’m not that type. I’m the guy who thinks of the next big thing after the one I’m planning. It’s not a 1-year, 3-year or even 5-year plan. It’s a commitment for a long, long time.”